Arab and Jewish Lives matter

Netanyahu’s annexation move misses on the opportunity of linking the longterm destiny of Israeli Jews to that of Arabs within and around Israel.
Monday 29/06/2020
Demonstrators protest against Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s plan to annex parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, in Tel Aviv, Israel. (REUTERS)
Demonstrators protest against Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s plan to annex parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, in Tel Aviv, Israel. (REUTERS)

Some 40 years ago while I was in graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania, I saw a small feature story in the university’s daily newspaper about a graduate student who had arrived from Israel after completing his Master’s degree from Tel Aviv University.

The name “Abed” was a giveaway telling me this was not a Jewish Israeli. Given my interest in the Middle East, I sought out Abed. It was the start of a life-long friendship.

He has long since finished his doctorate in engineering and moved away from Philadelphia to head a successful business venture. He now has a family of three children, the oldest being a daughter who is now a medical doctor.

I have since met many more Arabs from Israel. There is Mohamed, who also has a doctorate in law from the University of Pennsylvania after having earned his initial degree from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Tarek, who is from East Jerusalem, is the director of a prestigious Israeli scientific institute that quietly works with counterparts in Jordan, the West Bank and other Arab countries. The institute where he works discreetly hosts students from Arab countries who conduct research there. There is also Reem, who along with her husband is a graduate of Israel’s prestigious Technion University in Haifa. They run a successful company in Nazareth manufacturing a device that provides deep brain stimulation to counter the effects of Parkinson's disease. And the list goes on.

The internationally successful Netflix TV show, “Fauda," which showcased the complex relationships between Israelis and Palestinians, has helped spawn the successful careers of many actors from Israel, both Jewish and Arab, who have gone on to capture acting roles in the world of film and television. Many were “Arabs” from within the borders of what is today Israel.

As one friend of mine says, “call me Arab, call me Palestinian, call me Muslim, call me Arab Israeli…I really don’t care. I have succeeded within Israeli society because of or maybe in spite of being an Arab with Israeli citizenship.”

Arabs, who make up approximately 22% of Israel's population, can be found in every profession and within the most prestigious universities, some even serving in the military defending the state. Over 20% of doctors in Israel are Arab, as is a large percentage of Israel’s nurses and pharmacists. Arab citizens of Israel have their fluent Hebrew to show for their commitment to integration despite complaints that they are not reserved the same treatment as Israeli Jews in terms of employment, housing and other walks of life.

Despite all, Arabs of Israel could have been a bridge between Israelis and the rest of the Palestinian population in the occupied territories, which Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu intends to annex as of July 1.

While perhaps he has now changed his plans to annex about a third of the West Bank “in stages” as a means of placating the growing criticism from within Israel and around the world, his plans to annex areas inhabited by some 2 million Palestinians will surely be rejected by many as endangering Israel’s relationship with its Arab neighbours and those Arab countries with whom it has quietly been developing unofficial relationships. It is amazing that at a time of tumult caused by the annexation debate, private companies from an Arab country, the United Arab Emirates, dared to publicise last week a deal with Israeli counterparts over doing joint work on fighting COVID-19. Annexation might upend such a budding trend.

Palestinians have certainly missed more than opportunity to reach a peaceful settlement with Israel. But so did Netanyahu and his predecessors, had they recognised people like Abed, Mohamed, Khaled, Reem and thousands of other Arab citizens of Israel. They could have built with them a bridge to help bring true peace and economic prosperity to all Arabs of the region.

Annexation will now bring under Israel’s fold literally millions of Arabs (and this does not even count the 2+ million residents of Gaza). This move will hardly advance peace and security in Israel, while only serving to further widen the divide that the architects of Oslo had hoped it would reverse.

Arabs throughout the world seem surprised at the stories of success by Arab citizens of Israel and their relatively high living standards compared to elsewhere in the Arab world, despite the burden of second-class status the Israeli establishment has often placed on their shoulders.

As one sees the recent events in the United States with the Black Lives Matter movement and weeks of ongoing demonstrations, some of which have turned into violent clashes, Israel should be looking at ways to better recognise the Arab segment of their society and enhance its standing. That would spare Israel comparisons to the Apartheid and better ensure its own security.

It should take ownership of an “Arab Lives Matter" strategy that would serve a far better purpose for all people of the region, rather than implementing a shortsighted plan of annexation, which will only serve to fuel tensions and widen the divide in the region.

Beyond the security risks and the regional disconnect it is likely to provoke, Netanyahu's annexation move misses the opportunity to the longterm destiny of Israeli Jews to that of Arabs within and around Israel. Such an approach is the only way to go because Arab and Jewish lives matter.